In a strong defense of academic freedom, the University of Texas-Austin has issued a report supporting sociology Professor Mark Regnerus who is being attacked for a study (How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?) that found children of same-sex parents have a higher rate of depression and welfare participation than kids raised by heterosexual couples. The support, however, only came after a formal inquiry that appeared triggered by a New York blogger who denounced the study.
The inquiry itself raised academic concerns after a four-member advisory panel of senior university faculty members was impaneled and seized Regnerus’ computers and 42,000 emails. but the university stressed that this was just an inquiry and not a formal investigation. It found that the peer-reviewed study met academic standards for research.
The abstract of the study states:
The New Family Structures Study (NFSS) is a social-science data-collection project that fielded a survey to a large, random sample of American young adults (ages 18–39) who were raised in different types of family arrangements. In this debut article of the NFSS, I compare how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types. The results reveal numerous, consistent differences, especially between the children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents. The results are typically robust in multivariate contexts as well, suggesting far greater diversity in lesbian-parent household experiences than convenience-sample studies of lesbian families have revealed. The NFSS proves to be an illuminating, versatile dataset that can assist family scholars in understanding the long reach of family structure and transitions.
I personally question what can be taken from such a study, even if the underlying data is found to be solid. The study itself reflects the greater diversity in same-sex families and I seriously question the notion that such families have some fundamental and inherent element that produces these statistical differences. Those concerns have been raised by others.
“The University of Texas at Austin has determined that no formal investigation is warranted into the allegations of scientific misconduct lodged against associate professor Mark Regnerus regarding his July article in the journal Social Science Research,” the school said in a statement. “As with much university research, Regnerus’ New Family Structures Study touches on a controversial and highly personal issue that is currently being debated by society at large. . . . The university expects the scholarly community will continue to evaluate and report on the findings of the Regnerus article and supports such discussion.”
The “inquiry” was triggered by blogger Scott Rose who accused Regnerus of scientific misconduct in two letters to the school, including violating ethical standards and “possible falsification” of research. Rose also noted that as a Catholic funded by a conservative institute, Regnerus was biased. Here is Rose’s letter. While noting that he does not view Regnerus as political active, Rose lists what he considers a damning record leading up to and following the report, including the role of Regnerus’ Church:
To sum up the case: 1) Regnerus admits that the way he carried out his NOM-Robert George-funded study was not in the best long-term interest of science; 2) Regnerus converted from evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism; his Church is very aggressively involved worldwide in fighting against gay rights, including in the United States, where in June – July 2012, while making use of Regnerus’s study, NOM and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are joined in running the “Fortnight of Freedom” event; 3) in his Christian Trinity College biography, Regnerus says that he thinks his anti-gay-rights faith should inform his research and all his work; 4) Regnerus admits in his written study that he cannot claim any causation between having a gay parent and a bad child outcome, but, nonetheless; 4) he appears on ABC television, unambiguously suggesting that his study did show that homosexual parents are dangerous to children, and, his activity in misrepresenting his study that way to the public is 5) totally in line with the manner that NOM and Regnerus’s funder George’s other anti-gay groups are promoting Regnerus’s study. 6) In multiple ways, Regnerus’s study was designed fraudulently to stack the deck against “gay” parents to make them look dangerous to children, which enhances NOM’s anti-gay propaganda by which homosexuals are conflated with pedophiles. 7) Regnerus rushed his study to publication, apparently to meet a deadline set for him by his funders, and certainly against the interest of maintaining scientific integrity in the study. 8) Regnerus took a $35,000 “planning grant” from Witherspoon/Robert George, which obviously implies that had Witherspoon/George not liked the study plan, it would not have funded the study. 9) Sociologists from Brigham Young University were involved in the study design. This might in part explain why the study design was so heavily stacked against gay parents, in favor of “intact biological families.” BYU has an “Honor Code” that forbids members of the university community from doing anything that suggests that homosexuality is morally acceptable. To include BYU personnel in a study of gay human beings, is akin to asking the Ku Klux Klan to design a study about Jews.
Here is a summary of the study’s findings in Slate. He states that past studies tend to replicate assumptions of no differences in these families:
The rapid pace at which the overall academic discourse surrounding gay and lesbian parents’ comparative competence has swung—from the wide acknowledgement of challenges to “no differences” to more capable than mom and pop families—is notable, and frankly a bit suspect. Scientific truths are seldom reversed in a decade. By comparison, studies of adoption—a common method by which many same-sex couples (but even more heterosexual ones) become parents—have repeatedly and consistently revealed important and wide-ranging differences, on average, between adopted children and biological ones. The differences have been so pervasive and consistent that adoption experts now emphasize that “acknowledgement of difference” is critical for both parents and clinicians when working with adopted children and teens. This ought to give social scientists studying gay-parenting outcomes pause—rather than lockstep unanimity. After all, many children of gay and lesbian couples are adopted.
While I am gladdened by the support of the University, I remain concerned over the degree to which this researcher was subject to such an intrusive search and inquiry due to the controversy caused by his paper. This type of inquiry and the seizure of a computer has an obvious chilling effect on academics who may reach conclusions that are unpopular. The privilege of being an academic at a major university comes with the obligation to reach supportable, well-documented conclusions regardless of any personal preference. The fact that this professor may have conservative religious or political views should not alone qualify for a formal investigation — whatever it may be called.
The article raises an interesting question of the potential for a defamation lawsuit. However, just as I tend to favor academics in such disputes on the question of academic freedom, I tend to support writers like Rose on matters of opinion. The letter linked above includes some details that are legitimately grounds to raise in questioning the study, even though I find most of points as rather removed from the merits of the study itself. The question of me is the basis for the intense inquiry. What makes for legitimate opinions in opposition to a study are not necessarily a valid basis for a formal inquiry and panel review of a study. Such concerns generally go to a dean who makes a decision on whatever true academic misconduct or falsification has been raised with sufficient support to warrant an investigation. I do not see that basis here. The general inclination must remain with the support of academics to engage in debate over controversial questions without being called to account by the respective departments.
What do you think?
Here are the underlying Texas letters and report:
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education